Month: September 2015

In Flux

Failli. I first heard the word a few weeks into the beginnings of my ballet training, age eleven. It was one of the few French terms for which my classmates did not have a quick and easy translation–plié was to bend, tendu to stretch, but failli? All I knew was that it was a transition step, one with such importance as to have a unique, elegant name of its own. Failli took on an aura of mystery for me in my early training, when I was obsessively researching and categorizing every bit of information I could find about my newfound passion.

Funnily enough, transition steps are the ones that often fall by the wayside between intermediate and advanced dance training. They are the ones that connect the ‘important’ steps, after all. But, in the words of one of my favorite contemporary teachers, you have to learn to dance “the dance of no transitions.” The idea is that no one step is less valid, less vital, than any other. In the dance of no transitions, how you get from one big thing to the next is as important as getting there.

Last week I found myself contemplating how this might apply to my life outside of movement sequences. New York City has been in that odd place between summer and autumn, where you aren’t sure whether stepping out in jeans is a good idea or exactly what to set your thermostat on. My yoga teacher pointed out that as the seasons change, we have to adjust with them, and that leaves us with a choice: Do we “just get through” this potentially awkward patch, or do we take this transition with as much care and attention as we do the highlights?

Transition steps are important in dance because they are what set you up for the big, noticeable steps. If a transition lacks attention, the movement phrase as a whole becomes disjointed and less than fulfilled. In life, how we treat ourselves–our bodies, our hearts, our brains–in times of transition sets the tone for the season that is to follow.

Here, dear reader, is my challenge to you: as the heat of summer bleeds away and the crispness of autumn rolls into place, take time to notice the in-between steps. Maybe you’ll set yourself up for something amazing.

[P.S. One of my colleagues tells me that in certain contexts or turns of phrase in the French language, failli can mean nearly or almost falling. Food for thought.]

On the Other Side

I can remember sitting down at the end of my first year at Tisch Dance to write this post. There were so many pieces of advice that I wished I could have travelled back in time to whisper in my younger self’s ear—so many, in fact, that I had to do some serious editing in order to get the information into a bloggable format (It’s still a little long. I’m not sorry.). Now, on the tail end of my undergraduate career, I’ve realized that what I have learned about myself through my adventures as a second year Tischie is far simpler.

On headset with one of my most favorite friend/colleague/collaborator.

On headset with one of my most favorite friend/colleague/collaborator.

I think that there’s an idea that by the time you’re my age (21, beginning my senior year of university), you ought to have some concept of who you are and where you stand in the world. And I also think that in a world that can be obsessed with categorization, it’s easier than we realize to slip into the roles that we perceive—not necessarily a denial of self or anything so extreme as that, but perhaps a settling in to the person we believe ourselves to be. “This is who I am, and this is what I do,” we say, and we find our way forward following the pattern that emerges. And, speaking as someone who has declared to anyone who would listen that I was going to move to New York and be a professional dancer since I was thirteen years old, that is not a bad thing.

But how strange would it be to define ourselves, for the rest of our lives, solely by what we studied in college or the job we chose to do? This is who I am, this is what I do. There’s the dancer, the finance bro, the English geek, the anthropologist, the art historian.

At the historic Judson Church, waiting to watch a dress rehearsal of Dusk & Melon (the first time a colleague ever asked me to write for them).

At the historic Judson Church, waiting to watch a dress rehearsal of Dusk & Melon (the first time a colleague ever asked me to write for them).

So many of the craziest cool experiences I’ve had in the last eight months have happened because a part of me said, “Yes, and maybe I could be this, too.” I have been a dancer, yes, but also a choreographer, a collaborator, a sound tech, a stage manager, an office assistant, a writer, a fact checker. I have brainstormed and problem-solved with a team of designers over a giant, three-dimensional Rorschach-inspired set and sat with a string quartet in performance to help align musical cues with visual ones. I’ve talked to students considering entering the mad world of Tisch Dance, scribbled impressions into my notebook when invited to review a colleague’s work, and dug through the photo archives of Dance Magazine as a summer intern. This, I am beginning to think, is what it means to have a life in dance, not just be a dancer—performing a new contemporary ballet at an outdoor festival in Queens in the afternoon and then calling cues for a friend’s new work that night, plus an infinite number of possible variations thereof.

Accepting that I actually do not know everything there is to know about who I am and what I am capable of was admittedly a terrifying realization. I had, for years, been able to say with relative certainty what I was and what I was not, where I fit and where I never would. And then I was proven wrong on many counts, so much so that I scheduled a meeting with one of my teachers to explain (read: freak out) that I had no idea who I was as a dancer anymore.

Thinking back to this time one year ago, if I could say one thing to myself it would have been this: You know who you are, but you are also so much more than you realize.

Now this is obviously veering into dangerously corny territory. Which, okay, I sometimes live in. I’m not saying I don’t have limits. But I will say this: I have far fewer than I once believed.

So this is what I say to you, the dancer, the economist, the writer, the curator. Whoever you know yourself to be today, brilliant. But this isn’t everything you are.